Recently Watched: Dark Waters (2019), & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters [2019]★★★1/2

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven (2002), Carol (2015)) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home-town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark, and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

It is great to see Mark Ruffalo in a role that suits him so well. The actor is a passionate campaigner for environmental issues (as his friend Leonardo DiCaprio) and that means he brings a lot of his own enthusiasm, passion and intensity to the role. His character wants to know all the small details, names and inconsistencies of the case, “what “PFOA” stands for?”, he inquires and “why everyone keeps silent about the community’s biggest employer?”, he asks. Ruffalo almost reprises his role in Spotlight (2015), a film which also involved a controversy and the unveiling of a scandal.

The disbelief about the extent of the damage

Dark Waters does not revolutionise legal drama, stays too close to the narrative of Erin Brockovich [2000] (but without the charm of Roberts) and, surely, does not warrant its running time of two hours. However, it also has a lot of redeeming features. With its muted colours, Dark Waters has a feel of a well-made, detailed and nuanced documentary and the passion of Mark Ruffalo, who is also an active environmentalist, does come through in the film. All that makes Dark Waters an imperfect, but also an insightful and inspirational legal drama.

Thank You For Smoking [2005]★★★★

I love Jason Reitman comedies. His black comedies are punchy, entertaining, but with cleverness and a heart to them too. I like how Reitman centres on the most controversial and hard-to-talk-about issues and crises in society: teenage pregnancy (Juno (2007)), unemployment (Up in the Air (2009)) and lung cancer (Thank You for Smoking (2005)), but then turns them into enjoyable satirical materials on screen. His stories are fast-paced, full of black humour and hilarious one-liners, and contain that special deadpan wittiness. Thank You for Smoking, adapted from a book by Christopher Buckley, is about a “devil’s advocate”, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), who represents the interests of the American Tobacco company, that “statistically kills 1.200 Americans daily“. Nick defends the indefensible and profits handsomely from all his talk, too. When one senator starts his anti-smoking campaign, Nick and his company also feel like they need to retaliate (for example, by forcing Hollywood films to promote smoking). However, Nick’s desire to get close to his son and be a good role model for him poses some serious “moral” obstacles along the way.

The M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad

Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole (2010)) is good as a cynical man with a “moral flexibility” who can refute every study that links cigarettes to lung cancer and who works for that company that employs that kind of scientists who, in turn, are capable of “disproving gravity”. Nick lobbies in favour of smoking cigarettes and the promotion of the product is challenging, but not too difficult for him, as his boss (J. K. Simmons) says “[cigarettes] are cool, and available, and addictive”, “the job is almost done for us“. The film also benefits from its amazing cast: Maria Bello (A History of Violence (2005)), Adam Brody, Katie Holmes and Rob Lowe are just some of the actors involved whose characters all have their spotlight and a moment to shine. Thank You for Smoking may have an uneven plot and its emotional message does go astray, but it is still a thought-provoking satire on the corporate world and human dilemmas within.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. A fine pair, DB. I love Mark Ruffalo. He has blossomed into a fine actor who never disappoints. I remember liking Thank You for Smoking. The energy was funny and satirical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you and I agree on Ruffalo! Maybe not here, but he is generally more versatile than I ever imagined he would or could be.


  2. Ruffalo is always a pleasure to see on any cast list. I’m unsurprised he was great in this too. I remember just loving his work in Spotlight; the scene when his character lets his emotions getter the better of him, while speaking to his boss who’s played by John Slattery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      I agree and I also still remember that scene from Spotlight vividly! Whether in a supporting role or in the lead, there is a feeling that Ruffalo always tries to give it his best. I admire actors who can make even supporting roles very memorable and Ruffalo can manage that. His work in Shutter Island or in Zodiac are good examples.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked Dark Waters more than you did. I’d give it an B +. While I reaize that legal, political, and corporate dramas are unique sub genre’s, they all share a good dose of DNA. I tend to like the docudrama style, influence, quite a lot, especially when it is paired with satire like which Thank You For Not Smoking which I agree is the superior film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Dark Waters was good and I imagine it is hard to do something different with a legal drama that naturally, as you say, must follow a certain path. I also agree on a docudrama. I mean, I think that is why Todd Haynes was on board Dark Waters. He can do documentaries and biographical films very well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ruth says:

    Hi Diana! Dark Waters is a good film, though most legal dramas tend to be quite boring. I did a double feature of it with The Devil We Know documentary which is also about DuPont.

    I saw Thank You For Smoking ages ago and remember liking it too, it’s more entertaining than Dark Waters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t even know there was a documentary about Dupont! Thanks a lot for this info, and I’m on the way to checking it out! I love a good investigative documentary, especially on such issues.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ruth says:

        Yeah I think the doc is really good as it features people directly affected by the environmental scandal. Here’s my post if you’re interested:

        Liked by 1 person

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